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THE ROAD TO HARVEST HAS BEGUN

Each year the vines rest from about mid-November through mid-March.  In March, we prune the vines from scraggly bare sticks to neat shoots that extend out a few inches above the cordon (the horizontal branches that grow out on either side of the main trunk of the vine).  It is these shoots that will ultimately leaf out, then form buds, flower and produce grapes.  Fertilization, introduced through the irrigation system as well as nutrients sprayed on the leaves of the vines is undertaken in April.  Irrigation is gradually increased as the weather warms and the vines need energy for the spring reawakening process.  During the spring and early summer we constantly try to control weeds through mowing, weed whacking and hoeing.  We don’t use herbicides in the vineyard.  As fruit forms we evaluate the potential crop and actually drop many green bunches to insure that there is plenty of energy to produce the best grapes possible from the remaining bunches.  At this time we also work with the canopy of leaves formed by the vines by using “catch wires’ to keep the canopy vertical rather than letting it flop over.  This action allows the light to reach the fruit during the growing process, developing those flavor compounds that we all love to find in the wine.  As the summer comes on we may allow the western side of the vine canopy to drop over to protect fruit from the intense afternoon sun.

As the fruit begins to show color (veraisen) birds become a nuisance and by late July we place netting over the vines to protect the fruit from becoming bird food.  Harvest usually begins for our Viognier and Grenache Blanc (and this year, Zinfandel from Mas Olivas Vineyard) in late August.  The later ripening Malbec, Petite Sirah and Syrah may not be harvested until mid-September.  The last grapes to ripen will be Grenache, usually ripening in October.  After harvest we fertilize again, remove netting and reduce watering until the rains come.  The vines become bare “sticks” again by Thanksgiving.

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SQUEAKS FROM THE CELLAR RAT

Finally the Cellar Rat gets the recognition he so rightfully deserves.  Recently we met some friends at their home and as we pulled into their pristine driveway we were gratified to find a reserved parking space designated for the Cellar Rat.   Naturally, I expected nothing less and look forward to finding that each of you have followed suit and now proudly reserve the most desirable parking space at your home or business for Cellar Rat parking.  An appropriate design is shown below.

 

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Why Rosé?

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Why Rosé?

A couple of months ago, we were pouring Shadow Run wines for a young, fun, very bright group of tasters and one of the men asked, “why rosé?  I mean, I just don’t get it…”

There are no pink grapes in vineland…  Vines yield grapes that have either green/pale amber skins, which we use to produce white wines, or purple skins which of course are used to produce red wines.  So in a world awash with delicious, sometimes quite wonderful white and red wines, why do we bother to create a pink wine?  Great question!

The answer relates to the fruit flavors available in white and red wines.  In certain white wines we taste tropical flavors of pineapple, lychee nut, mango, or perhaps citrus flavors like Meyer lemon or grapefruit.  Some white wines are characterized by stone fruit flavors of peach or apricot and aromas of white flowers such as honeysuckle, or even grassy notes.  The flavors in red wines might reveal blackberry, blueberry, cherry or plums.  But there is no cross over of flavors between red and white wines:  you will never taste plums in a Sauvignon Blanc or pineapple in Syrah.

The beauty of a well crafted white wine is that the tropical, citrus or stone fruit flavors sing through because of the delicacy of the wine.  Aging in the right barrel can add richness and flavors of vanilla or coconut.  Flavors of boysenberry, blackberry or cherry in a red wine may be more or less apparent based on the heat of the fermentation process or the barrel choices of the winemaker.   Depending on the source and toasting of the oak, the fruit flavors in red wine are married or masked with oak tannins, oak sugars and toasty flavors from the barrel including mocha, dark chocolate, spices or even cigar box.  Fruit is one component, and not always the headliner in the varied and complex flavors of a rich red wine.

A rosé is as unique as it is pretty.  Purple skin grapes are harvested and the juice is immediately pressed off of the skins, resulting in a light purple/pale pink juice.  The juice then undergoes a relatively cold fermentation to retain the fresh fruit flavors.  And like a white wine, the fruit in a rosé dances through, is in fact the star of the show.  But the flavors available in a rosé are completely different from a white wine!  In a rosé, depending on the red grape varietal used (Grenache, Syrah, Petite Sirah) you might taste fresh strawberry, ripe raspberry, cold juicy watermelon or a combination of red fruits.

Why rosé?  The simple answer is found in the delicious, nuanced flavors and aromas.  A perfect rosé offers the fruit forward qualities that we love in white wines, yet the flavor profile of a rosé presents a completely different set of fruits.  Instead of peaches, apricots, lemon, pineapple, in a rosé we taste the red fruits including strawberry, raspberry, red currant.   Jolie indeed!

Cheers!

Susan

Try our rose --Jolie -- before it sells out!

Try our rose --Jolie -- before it sells out!

 

 

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Sunlight into Wine

Summertime in the vineyard means working to bring the vines into “balance” – the right balance of nutrients, water and leaf area.  One of our generations’ great names in viticulture, Dr. Richard Smart, in his famous text, Sunlight Into Wine taught us the importance of light on the grapes to achieve those flavor compounds that result in the wines we all love.  Too much shade from the green canopy of vines will result in veggy flavors in the grapes (think bell pepper) and ultimately in the wine.  Too much sun, the grapes will be sun burned.  Find just the right balance and the flavors and deep purple colors will evolve to the wines we all cherish.

The Shadow Run wines are characteristically inky purple black in color.  Anthocyanin, the same compound that puts the purple into your iris, blueberries and eggplant, also brings color to the grape.  And this prized compound is best developed by bright, intense light.  Again, the “right” amount of light is a balancing act.  Too much sun on Pinot Noir or Grenache grapes (both thin skinned grapes) can ultimately lighten the color of the wine.   Many of our tasks in early summer are geared toward making sure that the growing grapes have just the right amount of sunlight.

The trellis system that we use at Shadow Run is a perfect design for insuring proper amounts of light on the grape clusters.  Wires hold the growing green shoots upright, allowing light to hit the grape clusters.  The vine rows run north to south, so as soon as the morning sun appears in the east, the light begins to saturate the grapes.  Air also moves more freely through the vines, reducing exposure to powdery mildew and other diseases.  The wires can also be used to allow the shoots to droop over on the western side of the vine row when the temperatures are soaring.   A brilliant system indeed!

In this video, Aaron walks us through the vineyard, and starts his summer work to make sunlight into wine. 

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Put Down That Cookie!


An often repeated conversation in our tasting room includes my Favorite Cellar Rat asking me to taste through the wines that we are pouring in the tasting room and my reply, “I can’t because…
I just ate an orange,
I just had salsa,
I just ate gingerbread with lemon sauce (so good!)
I just brushed my teeth.”

We often search for, and talk about foods that pair with wines.  But I think it is worth a moment’s conversation to consider those foods that play havoc with the glass of wine you are enjoying.  Certainly, highly acidic, sweet, salty and spicy foods are at the top of the “wreck the palate” list. Frankly, I have never met a green salad that “paired” with wine, usually because the salad is dressed with an oil (good) and a citrus or vinegar component (good for the salad, bad for the wine.)  Peanuts, pretzels, chips should be saved for a cold beer.  And that piece of chocolate cake?  Enjoy with ice cold milk.  But if you are munching cake and drinking wine, I hope the wine is a $5 special.

There are exceptions to every rule (and I am sure I will get e-mails telling me about your favorite exception).  Cellar Rat and I often share a bowl of edamame with a glass of chilled viognier.  Hmmm, a salty green veggy and a delicate white wine – how is that a good combination?  Brother Mike called us a couple of years ago to advise that honey infused goat cheese was seriously yummy with Cellar Door, our estate grown syrah.  I of course assumed that Mike and his wife Laura had enjoyed too much of the syrah, (pair sweet with a Shadow Run red?), but he insisted, we tried it, and he was so right!

Over the years, friends and family have provided a lot of great food and wine pairings.  And we are always looking for more recipes, more ideas for that perfect (or simply yummy) pairing.  If you have a favorite food and wine pairing (Shadow Run wine, of course), send it to us and we will share on our web site.  In the meantime, if you are planning on a day of wine tasting, you might reconsider that lunch plan of jalepeno pepper, orange marmalade and kale salad.

Cheers!

Susan

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Wine, Women and Chemistry

Shadow Run's winemaker, Susan Evans

Some of my favorite scenes and sounds from the harvest season include the laughter and banter between the men and women who work in the vineyard.  Pruning thousands of grape vines in a week is tedious at best.  It is also an art form – I watch an experienced crew complete the precision work required to prune each vine in a minute or two and think of the 1990 fantasy, Edward Scissorhands.  Pruning may be tedious, but harvesting grapes is just brutal work.  But the sun comes up, the music is lively, and there is always enough energy to work hard, flirt and tease.  The laughter in the vineyard is contagious.

Are you surprised to learn that women comprise about one third of our farm crews?  The wine industry is strengthened by the inclusion of women in every sector.  Our vineyard crews are ably managed by Mindy Allen, a woman who certainly has nerves of steel, evidenced as she organizes crews to meet the competing demands of (sometimes crazed) vineyard owners.  Weather drives the growing season and farming crisis seem to happen at the same time, all across the region.  “Bud break is early – I need a crew to prune NOW”, “rain is in the forecast, I need the Cab picked NOW”, “the sugars in the grapes are shooting up, I need a harvest crew NOW.”  And Mindy has the ability to turn on a dime to direct her troops accordingly.  She is also of course, responsible for the safety, the well-being and the salaries of these men and women.

I was working on my master’s degree in viticulture when our vineyard was first planted and didn’t have the hands on experience necessary to manage the vineyard.  I learned a lot from my text books, but I learned so much more from our (then) vineyard manager, Hilary Graves.  Hilary taught me how to quickly assess, by visual signs, and by the quick touch of hands cupped to leaves, the adequacy of water content in a vineyard.  She also taught me how to train a young vine, how to determine grape “ripeness” by taste and seed color, and the most environmentally sound method for eliminating certain pests (shoot them).

As I write this blog, I think of all the women who are involved in and advise us on the one hundred details of our small business from the selection of French oak barrels (hmmmm, medium or light toast, oak from the forests of Vosge or Allier?) to the purchase of wine bottles and labels.  The very talented Christina Benson designs our wine labels, is the creator of the Shadow Run logo, and is responsible for all of the Shadow Run art work.  We turn to Annamarie Howard of Scott Labs for advice on strains of fermentation yeasts and even bacteria.  Bacteria?  Yes, a dose of friendly bacteria is sometimes needed in the wine, and the knowledge of when and how much is part of the chemistry of wine making.

Dr. Brenda Baker in her lab.

One of our favorite women in this industry, Dr. Brenda Baker, is a biochemist and owner of Baker Wine and Grape Analysis.  Dr. Baker suggests that wine is “a living organism” that can and will change, for better or worse, as it evolves in the barrel or in the bottle.  For that reason, winemakers, from novice to rock star, and from all over California’s Central Coast, rely on Dr. Baker to analyze, advise them on that magical potion we call wine.  If the Shadow Run family had a dime for every winemaker conversation overheard that started or ended with “Brenda said…” we could buy a lot more new French oak barrels.

In this video Dr. Brenda Baker walks Aaron Hunt (Shadow Run Vineyards) through her lab and introduces him to the amazing technology that she uses to analyze all manner of delightful liquids including wine, grape juice (before it becomes wine), beer and olive oil.

So, when you are sipping on that rich, delicious, perfectly lovely glass of wine, remember the women who managed the vineyard, picked the grapes, understood the chemistry, created the packaging and guided the wine from barrel to bottle to divine!

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Grape Harvest 2015 - Punch Down

All of the flavors and deep lush colors found in red wine come from the skin of the grape.  These prized, but sometimes elusive flavors and colors are extracted during the fermentation process.   So a critical component in making deeply colored, flavorful red wines is to keep the juice of the grapes in contact with the skins.  As the grapes are fermenting, the yeast turns the sugar into alcohol and creates carbon dioxide which pushes the skins and seeds (the “cap) to the top of the fermentation bin.   A daily task for the winemaker or her cellar rat is to push the floating cap of grape skins back down through the juice.  The job of “punch down” is done at least three times a day during the fermentation period.  And hopefully no one falls into the fermentation bin.

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Harvest is upon us!  For a would-be cellar rat / winemaker like myself, that means every weekend is spent in Paso Robles, helping to harvest or process grapes.  Because every varietal we grow is ready to harvest a different time -- unless it doesn't reach ripeness, but that is a story for another blog entry -- we're harvesting a different block every week and have grapes in all stages of winemaking for the next month or so.

In addition to harvesting and processing grapes, we've got the usual ancillary activities such as driving samples to Dr. Baker at www.bwga.net, attending harvest festivals, constantly testing and tasting for ripeness, consulting with fellow winemakers, keeping things going in the tasting room, and shooting these behind the scenes videos of the process.  In the near future our Shadow Run Vineyards YouTube channel will be changing it's name to The Aaron & Dave Wine Show as we venture off of the property to show you more of Paso Robles, other wineries, the characters that work and live there, and whatever else might come up on our travels.

A few words about this years harvest:  Something happened in Paso Robles -- everyone has a theory but no one is definitively sure -- and the average harvest tonnage we're bringing out of the vineyard is about 60% down from previous years.  This could have been caused by a late freeze no one noticed, strong winds blowing pollen off and preventing pollination, who knows.  Regardless of the cause, it's forcing wine makers to do some scrambling.  When mother nature delivers an unexpected hand, the winemaker must make quick decisions to deal with the new reality.  This might mean co-fermenting grapes for an unplanned blend, making different use of barrels and containers that planned, buying additional juice from other vineyards to make a new blend, or forgoing making a much desired stand alone varietal or blend.  This is the nature of winemaking:  there is never a recipe to be followed.  Good winemaking comes down to smart reactions to the unexpected.  And a good network of vendors and colleagues who can help you make those adjustments.

In this video I cover -- at a very high level -- the first part of what happens to grapes coming out of the vineyard, on their way to becoming wine.  Please enjoy the video and if you have any questions or comments, don't hesitate to post them.

Aaron

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The Fruits of Summer

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The Fruits of Summer

Licking that fresh, sweet peach juice from your sticky fingers is the first step toward your informal education in wine sensory appreciation...savor the fruits of summer...no further instruction needed.

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Testing the Vines for Nutrients

Spring is sprung and events in the vineyard are coming fast and furious.  Some of these events are ones we have to do every year:  pruning, training vines, shoot thinning and... today...  pulling petiole (leaf stem) samples to be tested for nutrients in the vines. 

The principle here is that there's an optimum range for each critical nutrient in the vine... and when the vine has its nutrients in that optimum range we get the highest quality results.  High quality grapes are about the only way to make high quality wine.  We didn't start this business to make average wine.

This is a lesson we had to learn the hard way when, years ago, we couldn't get berry set in the Malbec vines.  (Berry set = grapes)  While our consultants were as baffled as we were, we did have nutrient reports showing the Malbec was low in zinc.  Luckily we live in a world in which you can type "low zinc Malbec" into Google and access a host of reports that will tell the vineyard manager that "Yes, you're not going to get berry set until you fix that nutrient."  Google 1, consultants 0.

It's not always possible to bust out an iPhone (or ideally our videographer and marketing guru Budo Dave) and document the steps we take in the vineyard or the winery; but, we're going to keep documenting what we can.  We believe more knowledge leads to more appreciation, and more appreciation leads to you enjoying more of our wine. :)

Cheers!

Aaron

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For Love of White Wines

The Shadow Run beauties including our Sweet Baby Jess, Grace and Melissa.  All three a study in contrasts:  delicate but not light weights, intriguing without drama, complex and yet the perfect casual company on a lazy Sunday afternoon.  Thirsty yet?

The Shadow Run beauties including our Sweet Baby Jess, Grace and Melissa.  All three a study in contrasts:  delicate but not light weights, intriguing without drama, complex and yet the perfect casual company on a lazy Sunday afternoon.  Thirsty yet?

My assessment of any winemaker’s talent is always enhanced tenfold when I discover that she or he can create a beautiful white wine.  Creating a luscious, nuanced white is a thin cord balancing act built on both science and art.  The natural delicacy of a white wine quickly reveals flaws that cannot be camouflaged by time in oak, enhanced by oak sugars or softened with age.  Guiding a white wine to maturity requires a refined approach, constant vigilance to retain the delicate flavors, the fruit and floral nose that are the hallmark of a great white wine.  And when the flavors are layered and complex, with each sip revealing yet another hue, then I am in white wine heaven.

I have the great fortune to work primarily with viognier, also known as the winemaker’s grape for its elusive qualities.  A great viognier should reveal layers of stone fruit including apricot, white and yellow peach, perhaps lychee nut  and honey, heightened by a hint of lemon.  The characteristic viognier nose is floral, perhaps honeysuckle or white flowers.  My favorite wine writer, Karen MacNeil describes viognier as “chardonnay’s ravishing exotic sister.”  Ahhhhh, so true.  But viognier grapes, allowed to ripen on the vine too long can produce a wine that is oily, with high alcohol and insufficient acid to balance the rich flavors.  Harvest too early and the resulting wine shows more citrus and acid, resembling a crisp sauvignon blanc from California’s Monterey County.  A delicious flavor perhaps, but not viognier.  That precise harvest moment seems to arrive and depart very quickly, and missing that perfect balance of flavors and acid can leave the winemaker with less than ideal fruit and dreaming about the next vintage, another chance for the dream wine.

Frankly, I work harder and spend more capital on our whites.   I think about them more, I worry about them more, I love them more.  I ferment our whites in huge French oak puncheons in a cold environment and then age the wine on the “lees” that is, on the spent yeast cells.  While the wine is aging in barrel, I stir the lees three times a week to enhance the body and mouthfeel of the wine, hoping to again capture that creamy mid palate that has become a hallmark of Shadow Run whites.

Our family has put precious capital toward my addiction, equipping the winery with state of the art equipment for producing white wines.  If you have spent time in our barrel room, you may have noticed the pattern of pipes that run across the ceiling and down to our stainless steel tanks.   Those pipes are filled with glycol (think anti-freeze) that flows into the “jackets” on our tanks and allows me to achieve below freezing temperatures to cold stabilize our white wines.  Our stainless steel bladder press (The Beast) is an engineering marvel which envelopes the grapes in an enclosed cylinder, allowing us to gently press whole grape clusters while protecting the delicate juice from oxygen which in the early stages can destroy aromas and flavors.  Nail biting in the winery isn’t related to chemistry equations, but to programming The Beast to achieve exactly the pressure and rotations that will achieve the ideal results. 

White wines are my passion.  And the search for the best, from me and from other winemakers never ends.  And each year I have the chance to try yet again to create that wine that will satisfy my ambitions of perfection.  Happily I will never make the perfect white, so I am driven to try again and again.

Cheers!

Susan
 

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Pruning the Vineyard, Balance in the Vineyard

Aaron introduces us to the vineyard at Shadow Run, and to some of the choices that are made in the vineyard, including how and why we prune. "You can't put in what God left out." Shadow Run Vineyards and Winery is a family-owned business located in the Paso Robles wine region of California.

We shot this video right after the vineyard had been pruned.  Deciding when to prune and how to prune is one of the many tools the vineyard manager has at her disposal to establish the balance in the vineyards that produces grapes that produce great wine.

Timing is especially important for pruning at Shadow Run Vineyards, because when you prune can effect when you get bud break.  If you get an early bud break, and mother nature decides to drop the temperature below freezing one or two more times before Spring is over, we're going to kill a lot of buds and we're not going to get grapes.  If we prune late, and as a result we get a late bud break, we've probably already missed the late Spring frosts and are into safer nighttime temperatures.

How you prune determines what the vine structure will look like, and how many grape clusters you get.  There's only so much goodness stored up in a vine, and having too many clusters of grapes will spread that goodness to thin.  For the premium wine we make, we want no more than 48 grape clusters per vine.

Although a lot of the work done at Shadow Run is done by either Les, Susan, or myself, this is one task we hire a crew for.  They work quickly, efficiently, and just like the crew we'll later hire to support harvest, always do a good job.

Great winemaking starts in the vineyard, and always comes down to balancing many different factors that will determine the ultimate product.  You can't put in what God left out, and the winemaker can't make great wine out of anything other than great grapes. 

The next big consideration will be testing the vines for nutrients.  To produce the grapes we want, the vines need the right levels of various nutrients and if we have to we'll add them.

Next time you're at Shadow Run feel free to go check out the vines, and ask lots of questions if you like.  We love talking about the work.

Cheers,

Aaron

 

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How do we chose specific barrels and how does it affect the wine?

I feel slightly guilty blogging about this barrel room topic (relating to micro reactions in the sleeping wine) when there is so much going on in the vineyard right now!  Flowering, petiole (leaf stem) pulling for nutrient analysis, bulldozers, profoundly hung-over laborers, fire trucks, etc.

That being said, it's an important topic, I went to the trouble of shooting this video, and there are some wine nerds out there that might want to know how and why a small winery chooses the barrels it does.  We'll get back to "The War in the Vineyard" in a future article. As I referenced in the previous post, barrels play a role in slowly imparting just the right amount of oxygen to the wine at a very slow rate to allow it to continue to develop, but not to lose any bright fruit flavors because of too much oxygen.  Barrels also impart oak sugars, oak flavors (such as spice), and conveniently give us a place to store the wine.

We have a lot of choices in the barrels we chose.  We can buy French, Hungarian, or American made oak.  We can buy tight grained wood which imparts flavors slowly, or loose grain oak that dumps all it's flavor in a matter of a year or so.  We can buy new or used.  Used barrels have less sugar and flavor to impart, but they cost a lot less and -- more importantly -- aren't going to put too much oak flavor into a delicate, light wine that would be overwhelmed by new French oak.  Pour big, robust, tannic Syrah into the same new French oak barrel, and it's got enough muscle and personality to take those big oak flavors and integrate them nicely into a balanced wine with lots of everything.

If you'd like to know more visit us as Shadow Run for a barrel tasting and compare juice from the same vineyard in three different kinds of barrels and see what you like.  Or, buy me dinner and I'll tell you all about it.

Cheers!

Aaron

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Introduction to the Barrel Room with Aaron Hunt

Introduction to Shadow Run's winery and barrel room in Paso Robles, the role of oxygen in winemaking, and the role of wine barrels in the elevage -- or aging -- of the wine. Shadow Run Vineyards and Winery is a family-owned business located in the Paso Robles wine region of California.

Many decades ago Robert Mondavi traveled to France to investigate French wine and French wine making.  He discovered that unlike the giant redwood containers California wine makers were using to age their wine, the French were using small oak barrels and making vastly superior wine.  Robert brought the practice back to California and now almost all California wine makers interested in making premium wine use these barrels to age wine before it's bottled.

In this video I introduce the viewer to our barrel room, and to the purpose of using these barrels.  The story of wine making is largely the story of the interaction of the juice and oxygen.  Oxygen plays two roles:  both making and ultimately destroying the qualities we enjoy in wine.  The barrels allow us to control this process, and expose just the right amount of oxygen over the right period of time to produce the wine we want to produce.

Obviously I'm new to speaking in front of a camera, so I hope I expressed myself well enough that you at least get some new bit of knowledge about the use of barrels in wine making, and particularly the use of barrels in a small artisan winery seeking to make the best possible wine.

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Tractor work in preparation for a new acre of Grenache.

Some of our favorite wines made in the Paso Robles AVA are Grenache blends or 100% Grenaches.  From a winemaking perspective we want to have more colors to paint with, and since we love Grenache is seems like an obvious next varietal to grow.  We are currently in the process of making a Grenache -- it's currently in barrel and we're very happy with the way it tastes -- but we'd like to grow our own.

In this video we show Les and Aaron doing what they often do together on the property: fuss with the tractor and get work done.  The next step in the planting of Grenache is "ripping" the soil, and on this day we rip enough soil to determine if we want to rip the entire acre, or if it represents too much of a threat to the top soil.  We show the challenges of working with tractor equipment, and doing infrastructure work yourself, and our happy discovery of the sandy, loamy soil in the acre we plan on planting. 

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Shadow Run winery is now powered by solar energy!

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We have recently completed the installation of a 12.5 kw solar array that will generate all the power we need to keep our barrel room and winery at the cool temperatures that are required year around.  We are making every effort to reduce our carbon footprint by minimizing the energy we require from the local grid. Our goal is to produce the same amount of power that we use for our wine making business.

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